R Is For Rachel, From Routine To Rad


At first glance, Rachel may seem like the most mainstream of American names. But a few famous Rachels are turning it into something more interesting.

On the Baby Name Wizards forum, several Rachels report dissatisfaction with the moniker. One says, “I don’t completely hate it, but it’s not the most beautiful girl’s name. It’s more of a practical, boring name.” Another: “I believe Rachel is one of those names which people associate with beauty, but also with boring-ness, same-ness and non-sophistication. It maybe makes me sound older, but not any more mature.” To the Anglophone ear, the name may have a certain harshness to it — that ‘r’ followed by a long ‘a’ — especially when paired with, say, Dratch.

But la Dratch isn’t America’s most famous Rachel — once upon a time, that title went to Jennifer Aniston’s character on Friends. Rachel Green gave her name to a ubiquitous nineties haircut, as well as catapulting Aniston into her current enviable status as America’s favorite lonely miserable spinster (though she was married to Brad during much of the show). Aniston’s public image, minus the supposed baby-fever and man-hunger (or perhaps because of them), is a little bland — and Friends still stands, at least to me, as the apotheosis of white-bread, middle-class American humor. So while Rachel isn’t a sorority-girl name, nor is it WASPy (many famous Rachels are of Jewish heritage), it can seem a bit run-of-the-mill — all blond highlights and inoffensive jokes.

Then again: Rachel Maddow. Not only is she the first openly gay primetime TV anchor, a popular crush for men and women alike, and sort of a personal fashion icon of mine, her wry and opinionated style is pretty much the opposite of white bread. She’s not the first muckraking Rachel: Rachel Carson was warning America about DDT back in the fifties and sixties. While Rachel McAdams was unimpressive in Sherlock Holmes, Rachel Griffiths continues to be vulnerable and frightening and unconventionally hot in pretty much every role she takes on. And while Rachel Weisz‘s image as the thinking man’s sex symbol is getting a little annoying, she does seem like someone who would be interesting to talk to as well as look at.

So perhaps Rachel is a name in flux. Hyper-popular in the eighties (it hit #16 in the US), it has now plunged to #75 — still fairly common, but rare enough to shake off its America’s Sweetheart associations. If Rachel Carson is any indication, Rachels have long been pot-stirrers, willing to say what no one else will. And so while the Rachel of the nineties may have been a high-maintenance layered blowout, maybe the Rachel of the teens will be a close-cropped style, perfect for chasing down stories, calling out liars, and generally kicking ass.

Rachel [Wikipedia]
Rachel [Baby Name Wizards]

Earlier: Q Is For … Um …
P Is For Paula, Who’s A Little Bit Nutty
O Is For Olivia: Precocious, Passionate, & Up For A Lesbian Cruise
N Is For Natasha, A Femme Fatale
M Is For Michelle, An Elegant Mystery
L Is For Lisa, Whose Looks Are Deceiving
K Is For Kate, Who Kicks Ass, Takes Names
J Is For Jennifer, The Vanilla Of Names
I Is For Isabel, Who’s Snooty, But Earns It
H Is For Hillary, A Barrel Of Laughs
G Is For Grace – What’s That Up Her Sleeve?
F Is For Francesca, And I Wish I Were Her
E Is For Emily, Who Seems Sweet (At First)
D Is For Danielle (Or Dani, Who’s Apparently Kinda Judgey)
C Is For Courtney, Who’s Too Cool For School
B is for Beth (And Barack! And Bandana!)
A Is For Anna: What My First Name Says About Me

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